The Multinational Monitor

MAY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 5

F I L M   R E V I E W

Killer Wheat

September Wheat
by Peter Krieg
96 min., 16mm, color

This documentary on the international grain traders and bread manufacturers provides fascinating glimpses. into the workings of the most vital industry in the world: food.

Unlike most documentaries, September Wheat eschews a thematic, verbal presentation, opting instead for powerful juxtapositions of news announcements, company advertisements, interviews with small farmers and corporate officials, shots of grain being harvested and Wonder Bread (an ITT brand name) being mass produced, and pictures of starving people.

Krieg indicts the industry, usually via his canned news announcements, on a number of counts.

First, he tells us that agribusiness has become the province of giant corporations, who have displaced the small farmer:

"Washington: The average American farm size has doubled since 1950, the number of farms has been reduced by one half."

Second, these giant grain companies use dangerous pesticides which infect the environment, the food we eat, and our own bodies:

"Kansas: American farmers have increased their use of pesticides during the last 30 years by 12 times." "Kansas: Massive fish kills, water and milk contaminations, dead cattle and widespread illness in humans have been reported here following a large scale aerial spraying with the insecticide Dendrin."

Third, Krieg informs us that corporations such as Shell, Pfizer, Upjohn and Monsanto are patenting seeds at an accelerating rate. This may eventually deplete the natural ingredients needed for healthy wheat, Krieg suggests.

"Washington: Scientists warn of increasing genetic uniformity of seeds. For example, only four varieties are used to produce 75% of the U.S. bread wheat. Through the patenting of new seeds by multinational corporations, the necessary genetic variety could be threatened on a worldwide scale, the scientists say."

The section on seeds is one of the finest in the film, in part because the issue has received such little play in the press, but also because of a wonderful interview Krieg filmed with Dr. Romig, a plant scientist with the Northrup King seed company in Minneapolis. Romig tells the viewer why patenting will bring greater profits for the company.

"As it is now," says Romig, "a wheat farmer can buy his seed once and if he wishes, he can hang on to this seed generation after generation, year after year." But "if we are successful in developing hybrid wheat, then it would be economically to the advantage of the farmer to come back and buy his seed every season from us."

Fourth, Krieg draws attention to the exorbitant profits the major grain companies make. He does this by sandwiching Cargill advertisements around news reports of its revenues.

"Here in America we have freedom: Freedom to succeed, freedom to fail," Krieg quotes a Cargill ad. "Profits are the reward of the man who succeeds."

News: "Minneapolis ...Cargill is the world's biggest grain trader and also the biggest private U.S, corporation, with a turnover of nearly $13 billion ...Cargill ranks 12th among the U.S. corporations in sales volume and in 1973 returned 43% on its capital, the biggest return of any big U.S. corporation."

Ad: "The American incentive system gave Cargill the same opportunity possessed by every American. We at Cargill firmly believe that only under the freedoms of the American system have we been able to grow and better serve American agriculture."

Krieg throws other interesting tidbits at the viewer, for instance that the big grain companies have defrauded foreign customers by selling faulty grain, that the companies have monopolized railroad cars to block small farmers from gaining access to markets, and that the giant companies illegally manipulate wheat prices.

The U.S. Food For Peace Program also comes in for criticism, as Krieg points out that such aid increases the dependence of foreign countries on U.S. food by displacing local agricultural production. The film quotes Earl Butz, Nixon's agricultural secretary, and the late Senator Hubert Humphrey, both boasting about the foreign policy weapon that U.S. food dominance offers.

Krieg's closing message is that multinational grain companies are responsible for starvation. This critical part of the argument, however, is not argued; no facts appear, only assertions, like the "Killer Wheat" heading on the screen, and jarring cuts from starving people in dirty cities to rolling wheat fields, to mansions in the countryside. The causal link is made only in the most impressionistic way.

By foregoing a logical, step-by-step analysis of the industry, he leaves to the reader the job of piecing the case together. For someone unfamiliar with the grain trade, and unable to take shorthand in a dark theater, this may be an extremely difficult task.

Krieg also places himself at a disadvantage by leaving out dates, not identifying sources of the "news" items, and omitting other credibility props.

Still, September Wheat is an invaluable introduction to the multinational grain industry, its power and its crimes.

For information about the film, write:

New Time Films, Inc.
132 W. 31 St., 2nd Floor
New York, N.Y. 10001

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